No White After Labor Day



To all of my American readers, I hope you thoroughly enjoyed the holiday weekend. I'd love to hear what you got up to.
A friend of mine hosted a fantastic hog roast garden party to mark what maybe the last garden party of the summer. He'd arranged for a marquee, a band, a fondue fountain... very decadent. The hog he'd managed to source for the roast was something spectacular! It was massive. I had to miss breakfast just so I could be sure to have a real go at it. Of course, whilst the day was very genteel, the evening turned into a drunken party that ended up with drinking games and a hog eating competition (yours truly being the champion). Unfortunately I'm feeling quite distressed now... :(

Labor Day marks the end of the summer season in the United States (unlike the UK and Ireland where the summer season finishes on the Glorious Twelfth). Consequently, as any prep, WASP, Trad, Brahmin, Knickerbocker etc will know, one no longer wears white after Labor Day. Having been asked what the rationale behind this fashion rule is I thought it might be interesting to explore a little further within this post.
Historically, the gentlefolk of the United States (and indeed elsewhere) would often wear lighter colours in the summer months. Whites and creams work to deflect sunlight so that heat isn't absorbed by one's clothes and thus can work to keep the wearer cooler. Light fabrics, such as linen and seersucker in whites, light blues and tans are perfect summer casual wear. These would often be paired with a pair of white buck shoes (hence the term "White Shoe" to denote upper class institutions). The opposite is true of the cooler winter months where heavy fabrics in colours that will absorb the sunlight are best worn.


Furthermore, in the 1800s when this rule first came to be, streets were grubby and dirty and the air was filled with the soot of factory chimneys and the grime of manual labour. For those whose means were limited, purchasing and wearing white was not an option as white looks dirty very quickly whereas other colours may disguise the dirt that they attract. Only the wealthy wore white as it demonstrated the fact that they could afford to have clothes cleaned and changed regularly. This is where the term white collar comes from (as shirts used to have detachable collars and the wealthy chose to affix white ones to display their wealth). This was also why WASPs wore white buck shoes - it was a status symbol.


However, being able to wash the grime out of white at the end of the day is one thing, but being saturated with rain, snow, sleet etc in the winter is another! Wearing white in winter was beyond the scope of even the wealthiest in the 19th Century. Wearing white bucks and white suits on a dank November day would be plain silly. Thus white was not to be worn in Fall or Winter months.
Another reason often suggested for not wearing white after Labor Day is that it is the end of the social season. The social season has a strict set of rules governing appropriate attire for events and locations. White is perfectly acceptable for summer semi-formal events. There are no such events in the winter season that would make white attire appropriate. Tweeds and worsted wools in darker or patterned colours are better. In any event, one always dresses to the season.
There is some suggestion that the rule was instigated by the Northeastern elite following the migration of many southern country ladies and gentleman in the latter part of the 19th Century. White being a go-to colour in the warmer climes of the southern States, many of these folk continued to wear white as a matter of culture and taste. Whilst acceptable in the South, many northern people took an instant distaste to the use of white outside of summer and so introduced this rule to put an end to the practice.
Interestingly, the US Navy switches from white to navy uniforms after Labor Day too.

So what does it all mean? Well, not a lot. Since the 1950s, many of the firm rules dictating how one should dress have been thrown out of the window. Consequently they are not given much sway these days and people will wear white whenever they feel like it. Bully for them! Nothing wrong with freedom of expression. However, a true prep will know that conservative tastes will always stand to you better than a flair for abstract individualism. Err on the side of caution, if you're looking for a promotion at your stuffy law firm or investment bank then do not wear white after Labor Day!

Obviously, white shirts, tee-shirts, socks, sweaters etc are ok to wear all year round. Just don't be wearing white buck shoes, fedoras/trilbys, suits, summer dresses, pants etc after Labor Day.